Visitors, particularly foreigners, to Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta region are now pampered with a wide array of rustic delights on farmer-run ecological tours.
It was 9:00 am one day and the Cu Chi Safe Vegetables Village, nestled in the outlying district of Cu Chi in Ho Chi Minh City, was gearing up to welcome yet another group of domestic and foreign tourists.
That routine seems to be more and more common when each day passes.
The farm, owned by Luong Viet Tan, 40, measures nearly 15 hectares in area and seemingly stretches as far as the eye can see with pigs, cows, and nearly 100 varieties of vegetables.
Wading through beds of veggies and herbs, Tan gave detailed explanations of each plant’s name, growing process, and medicinal properties before indulging visitors with first-hand farming experiences as each visitor got to act as a farmer for a day or two, and was assigned strenuous yet exhilarating tasks that included weeding, sowing seeds, watering and pruning plants and flowers.
“It’s a lot of fun. As a gardening buff, I find this tour really enchanting. The instructor is also friendly and enthusiastic,” Steven Hurt, an American tourist, remarked.
He and his friends laughed out loud collecting sweet potatoes and tending to the seedlings.
Around midday, as the guests, particularly kids, were tired out, Tan showcased his cooking skills, preparing quality dishes from the freshly collected veggies, and home-raised pigs, chickens, and fish.
He also showed his clients, including the eager kids, how to cook the food in a homely, rustic ambiance.
Hurt said he could not wait to share these pastoral delights with his friends back home and recommend this spot for their itinerary.
Similarly, Tran Cong Khanh, a 63-year-old farmer, has welcomed holidaymakers to his fruit-laden, breezy orchard in the Mekong Delta province of Ben Tre over the past 16 years.
Tran Cong Khanh proudly shows the free photos he has taken of visitors to his garden over the past 16 years. Photo: Tuoi Tre
In broken self-taught English, the elderly man welcomed a group of around 30 foreign tourists one afternoon.
Khanh and his sons cracked open home-grown coconuts and showed the intrigued visitors how to drink and eat the fruit.
He has also gone to great lengths to collect antiques for display around his spacious, drafty house.
Many foreigners found climbing the slippery coconut trees in Khanh’s garden a thrilling experience.
Thomas Wilson, a 23-year-old British vacationer, shared that it was the first time that he and his girlfriend had tried coconut juice and such rustic games, including when his girlfriend sat on a palm’s foliage and tried his best to drag her along.
Khanh said tourist visits peak during summer, with up to ten groups of vacationers each day.
According to Lu Thi Be Tho, a tour guide specializing in excursions to Ben Tre, holidaymakers, particularly foreigners, find Khanh’s games captivating and highly appreciate his zeal and hospitality.
Many tour operators have thus sent their customers to Khanh’s garden over the past several years, though his is not the only one in Ben Tre City, the province’s heart.
Tan and Khanh have given their best to add extra delights to their services in a bid to draw new visitors and bring back returning guests.
Since opening his coconut garden to tourists in 2000, Khanh has bought and taught himself photography so that he may capture precious moments while guests are enjoying his property. He often gifts the photos upon his guests’ return.
The seasoned farmer meticulously orders the remaining photos into his nearly treasured 600 albums.
Khanh said he will only stop the camerawork when he is too old to take photos.
Luong Viet Tan (in a white shirt), who runs the Cu Chi Safe Vegetables Village, nestled in the outlying district of Cu Chi in Ho Chi Minh City, explains to tourists the usage and medical properties of veggies on his farm. Photo: Tuoi Tre
As stipulated in agreements between himself and tour operators, Khanh is paid VND10,000 (US$0.4) for each coconut tourists drink.
The rate has remained unchanged over the past decade.
Likewise, Tan, who runs the Cu Chi Safe Vegetables Village, said that his bold decision to open the farm had been met with objections and suspicion.
Tan had worked as a pharmacist, chef, and restaurateur in Australia before establishing the farm in the middle of nowhere in an attempt to promote Vietnam’s landscape and cuisine to foreigners.
Undaunted by overwhelming initial difficulties, the man persevered and now receives an average of 1,000 tourist visits each month.
With his knowledge and experience as a pharmacist and chef, Tan has immensely delighted his guests with in-depth instructions on how to choose safe veggies and prepare delectable, nutritious meals.